We’ve seen all-star compilation albums before. We’ve recently seen Kanye put together a hall-of-fame line-up of producers, emcees and singers to craft a musically diverse album highlighting the strengths of each artist. With Terminal 3’s The Academy, we are moving into complicated territory with respect to collaborative efforts. With fifty five emcees involved, the album features an unprecedented combination of legends, underground veterans and talented upstarts. Teaming up to handle production duties are JP Beats and Marlon Price, veteran producers with the pedigree to match the wordsmiths featured on this project. Executively produced by Kurupt, the album is a fascinating chess match of pairing individual emcees together with the right beats. This veritable producer’s version of Tetris culminates in a patchwork lineup of young and old artists alike; one that surely could only be made by a man with a Rolodex like that of Kurupt.
A quick glance at the list of features suggests an air of quality even the most casual fan can recognize. Names like Raekwon, Jadakiss and Canibus initially catch the eye, each of which does not disappoint with their respective verses. By the album’s end though, the listener will find himself checking out some of the lesser known talents, who deliver impressively hard-hitting lines and prove they belong on the same tracks alongside the aforementioned vets. Tracks like “RAPtuRE” (featuring Rakaa Iriscience, Alpha Live, Rain, Verse and Planet Asia) and “Pick Your Vice” (featuring Pack FM, Udi the Erratic Assassin, Labba, DZK and Dollamentary) serve as platforms for some of the next generation to do their thing.
With a nice blend of east coast bass-thumpers and California funk-jams, the production is consistent and avoids getting repetitive. It’s strong enough that each artist gets something worthy backdrops to spit over and on a 21-track album like this, that’s really all you can ask for. For those that place lyrical ingenuity above all else, however, there is an obvious lack of thematic continuity in the album. This is certainly to be expected with such a high turnover of artists on each track, but it’s noticeable enough to somewhat detract from the album’s overall quality. As a result, the album feels a bit choppy on a complete listen through all of its offerings. Despite some strong examples of lyrical creativity, it gets difficult to follow the album all of the way through, with the project void of any effort to link concepts together.
Despite these deficiencies, there is no shortage of clever metaphors and tongue-twisting wordplay. One of the heaviest bangers on the album, “Triple Seize”, features some of the strongest verses coming from the likes of Crooked I, Copywrite and Chino XL. Crooked I in particular delivers typically filthy yet playful lines, exemplified by boasts like, “A street dude with the rawest rhymes of all times/ I bang broads of all kinds, they all dimes/ Even if they ain’t dimes I just fuck em and forget em/ never remember and just blame it on Alzheims.” “Bodydown” is another track that goes hard, which might be expected from a title of that nature. On this joint, Styles P attacks the beat with threats to weaker rappers: “Everybody know I’m gon’ last/ Everybody name is 50 when I’m done, I cut ‘em in half.”
In the midst of all of the braggadocio and debauchery that seems to always accompany these rap cohorts, one particular track stands out as unique. Between bashing wack emcees and thugged out rhymes resides an interesting tribute track to the late Guru. Positioned in the center of the album, DJ Absurd’s scratch-and-sample-laden, aptly titled homage to the deceased Gang Starr member — “Gifted.Unlimited.Rhymes.Universal” — is a nice homage to one of hip Hop’s finest lyricists.
The Academy is largely what one might expect from this laundry list of industry veterans and talented newcomers. With strong production that is flexible enough to match the featured artists’ versatility, the album provides listeners with 21 tracks that, in different ways, boom and bap. Overall, this is an album that is certainly worthy of your time. Heads will find it filled with quality lines from some well-respected vets and hopefully get put onto a new artist or two.
Triple Seize feat Crooked I, Copywrite & Chino XL
M.O.A.N. feat Hell Razah, Killah Priest, Prodigal Sunn & 60 Second Assassin
Paperwork feat Sean Price, Keith Murray & Big Lou